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Three Tips When Working with Visual Studio 2005 Beta 1

In the past few columns, I've covered various new features that Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 will offer. This week I want to pause that coverage to pass along a few tips for those readers who are using the beta 1 version that's available.

I'm involved in a long-term project in which the client wants to create and deploy a product that's built on Visual Studio 2005. Thus, I'm using Visual Studio 2005 beta 1 in the project's requirements and design phase. I can't go into details about my project, but suffice it to say I'm working with a large company on a new Windows Forms-based application. As I've stated in the past, Windows Forms are making a comeback as companies realize that XML Web services provide a distributed communication infrastructure that rivals the Web yet has a much richer UI. My project's end users want an application that provides them with a look and feel similar to the Microsoft Office applications they use. With Visual Studio 2005, creating this truly rich UI is possible.

I've been using Visual Studio 2005 beta 1 for a while now. If you're just starting to use this beta version or if you're considering using it, here are three tips that can help you avoid some of the pitfalls I've encountered:

1. When working with a beta version of any software, the most important consideration is to save early and save often. Crashes inevitably occur, so you should be prepared for them by saving your projects early on, then saving them often thereafter.

2. Take advantage of the new controls and features in the designs for your project, but avoid doing a lot of the object and data binding. Although you can perform object and data binding with Visual Studio 2005 beta 1, one hard lesson I learned from working with Visual Studio .NET 2002 beta 1 is that many of the data interfaces for the new ADO.NET were in transition. Because these interfaces went through significant changes by the time beta 2 was released, I had to do a lot of rework.

You can, however, include Visual Studio 2005's new controls in the designs for your initial screens. The look of these new controls isn't going to change between beta 1 and the official release. Similarly, although all of Visual Studio 2005's great new features (e.g., object data binding, code refactoring) don't work consistently yet, the ability to expose these new features won't change between beta 1 and the official release. So, your designs can include plans to use these new features.

3. A challenge with using Visual Studio 2005 beta 1 is slow performance. This slow performance is painfully obvious in Windows Forms-based applications. Even with minimal logic behind my user controls and Windows Forms, my application can take as long as a few minutes to compile. As tasks become more complex and the number of controls on a form increases, so do the delays.

If you look under the covers, the performance problem seems, in part, to be due to the fact that Visual Studio 2005 beta 1 builds both a debug version and a release version of a project every time you request a build. The result is that you're not only running the compiler twice but also creating twice as much output. Thus, your project increases in size as you see an ever-increasing delay in build time.

Fortunately, there are two actions you can take to speed up the build process. First, close any open Windows Forms design views before you request a build. The environment apparently attempts to update the design view window during the compilation process and having this window open slows the process. Closing this window will not only improve performance but also help ensure that you're frequently saving your work. Second, don't enable Visual Studio 2005's new Track Changes feature. This feature supports the visual tracking of changes made to a source file. By default, Track Changes is disabled. I recommend that you leave this feature turned off while working on your project. However, when you're not working on a project, you should check it out to get a feel for how it tracks the changes you make in a source file. To enable the Track Changes feature, select Options on Tools menu. In the Options dialog box, select Text Editor. Finally, select the Track Changes option.

Working with beta software such as Visual Studio 2005 beta 1 can be a rewarding experience. The recent release of Microsoft SQL Server 2005 beta 2 presents an additional opportunity for you to start getting familiar with these new tools. After all, Visual Studio (VS) and SQL Server are core tools for building applications on the Windows platform. Early access to these tools benefits Microsoft by exposing problems and getting feedback from people who plan to use the tools. We benefit by gaining experience with these tools and by providing feedback that drives the features we most want and need.

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